Drunken sweet potatoes

The most memorable Thanksgiving dish I recall from childhood wasn't my mom's turkey, fabulous oyster stuffing, candied yams or pumpkin pie. It was her festive relish tray.

The patchwork of black olives, spiced cranberries, sweet gherkin pickles, homemade pickled watermelon rind and pickled herring, my dad's personal favorite, was a feast unto itself. Those one-bite delights offered a crisp and tangy contrast between nibbles of mashed potatoes and green bean casserole that accompanied the bird. The relish tray made a lasting impression, and to this day provides me with comfort and familiarity of carrying forward a family tradition.

But when my sister called me to make menu arrangements this year, she assured me the relish tray was covered. Would I please make my brandied sweet potatoes? she asked, a dish I have made every Thanksgiving and Christmas for at least 23 years.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!

Brandied Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes
2/3 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. seedless raisins
1/4 c. cognac

Wash the sweet potatoes, but do not peel them. Boil in water to cover until barely soft, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and peel. Slice into a greased casserole. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring the brown sugar, water, butter and raisins to a boil. Add the cognac and pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, basting several times with the syrup in the casserole.

Serves four.


Gather, all ye plant and herb lovers

This weekend is the Anniversary Festival at Colorfield Farms.

There will be educational demonstrations on container gardening, low volume irrigation, hydroponics and my favorites — culinary classes and tastings!

Owner Anne Pidgeon will demonstrate how to use herbs in salad dressings and making pesto and meat sauces at noon tomorrow.

The weekend (Nov. 21 and 22) festivities begin at 10 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., Come on by.

Colorfield Frams, Inc.
8221 State Road 674
Wimauma, FL
(813) 833-2545


For the love of buttah!

I make a continental breakfast for the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce's monthly board meeting, each time preparing something different to keep things fresh.

On my agenda this month, I baked banana nut muffins and cranberry muffins. To keep them both company, I made cranberry-orange butter, which appealed to me because its easy-peasy, and I love its unusual pink color and tart sweetness. Hey. It's gotta be good. It's buttah!

The recipe comes from my friend Shari of The Saucy Gourmet, who made it to go along with cranberry scones.

Just think of all the other possibilities...


1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange peel, grated

In a small food processor or small bowl, cream the butter. Pulse or stir in the cranberries, sugar and orange peel. Blend well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.


Congratulations Sue Romeo!

Thanks to all of you that stopped by with a recipe, to say hi, or to help tether my tent down at the Ruskin Seafood Festival.

I'm happy to announce the winner of the catered dinner for two. Her name was drawn from the many who submitted favorite seafood recipes: Sue Romeo, owner of Canadian Meds South in Apollo Beach.

Sue calls her recipe MSR [my special recipe] Shrimp, which she serves with thin spaghetti and a big salad.

Sue, I'll be in touch.

My Special Recipe Shrimp

(Sue Romeo's recipe)

1 pound raw or cooked shrimp

1 pound box thin spaghetti, cooked until tender

1- 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes

15 - 20 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chicken bouillon

Garlic powder to taste

Hot pepper flakes for seasoning

Grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saute pan, over medium heat, add the oil and garlic. Saute' for two minutes. Add the shrimp. Saute' for three minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, bouillon, olives, and garlic powder. Continue to saute' for two minutes.

In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the shrimp mixture. Season with hot pepper flakes. Garnish with cheese. Serves six.


Giving big for the "Big Give"

Hey, everyone. There's still time to donate food items or bake a dessert for the annual South Shore "Big Give," a free, hot meal for the homeless and people in need who would otherwise not have a Thanksgiving dinner. They are still in need of at least 10 - 15 more turkeys.

Last year, more than 500 folks were fed.

This is a all-volunteer event. South Bay Hospital donates turkeys, and The Resort & Club at Little Harbor and Beanie Tichy of Beanie's Family Sports Grill cooks them. Dozens of others greet people, serve food or help with parking and clean up. It's a wonderful community effort.

For further information or to make a monetary or pantry donation, call Beth Howard at the South Shore Gallery at (813) 645-0483.


Having my fish cake and eating it too

Kaffir leaves aren't always easy to come by, so when I saw the better-order-me-now foliage in a list of produce available at My Mother's Garden online market, I bought six.

The loose, glossy leaves kept well in a baggie I stored in the fridge for several days. If you need to keep them longer, they can also be frozen for quite a long time.

Take care to shred the leaves finely when used, because they can be a little sturdy.

I decided to make My Mother's Gardens easy recipe for Spicy Fish Cakes, which called for five kaffir leaves. I used two, and they added plenty of flavor. Five might be somewhat overpowering.

Because they cook quickly, the fish cakes are a terrific weeknight food, and the kaffir leaves are a perfect partner with their unmistakable lemony-lime taste and aroma.

If you find yourself wanting a different flavor experience, get some kaffir leaves and try the recipe.


Say hello again to fried green tomatoes

I just learned from Julie Cockerham, owner of The Fish House in Ruskin, that classic Southern fried green tomatoes will be back on the menu, starting this week. Huge news for me. They're a favorite of mine.

The firm fruit wheels are fried up golden and crispy and served with two choices of dipping sauce — creamy ranch or a zesty, Southwest chipotle dressing.

Last month, I wrote an article about The Fish House for "In the Field Magazine," which can be read at the following link: http://issuu.com/inthefield/docs/hill_oct.09finalconverted. See page 46.

The Fish House
South side of Shell Point Road West, 1.4 miles west of U.S. 41 in Ruskin.
(813) 641-9451
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.


Acropolis Greek Taverna, opa indeed!

Greek food is always a treat. Their food culture is based on doing things generously, hospitably and tastefully. This is exactly what I found when I dined recently at the Acropolis Greek Taverna in Riverview. I wrote about the restaurant in this weeks Table Scraps newspaper column.

The place was overflowing with everything Greek, from servers dancing...

to flurries of napkins tossed in the air...

to even a few broken plates. Opa!

And the food was delicious. My dining partner and I immediately dove into the incredibly good Saganaki cheese. Served with pita, the dish is brought to the table, where the cheese is then ignited.

Not-to-be-overlooked is the Falafel, hummus, eggplant dip and fried kibbe'. This appetizer platter, which had them all offered a sampling of the classics. Come hungry!

Next came very tender chicken breasts sauteed in a lemon sauce with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and topped with crumbled cheese.

For dessert, layers of chocolate cheesecake and cake, topped with chocolate chips and then drizzled with chocolate sauce. It was crazy delicious.

6108 Winthrop Town Center Avenue
Riverview, FL
(813) 654-2277


Here fishy, fishy, fishy... recipe.

OK, it's clearly Ruskin Seafood Festival weekend — just look in my backyard. The annual event celebrates every ocean creature imaginable.

My earlier post told you a little bit about it, but here's the deal I didn't tell you about. Bring me your favorite seafood recipe. You'll find me at the Table Scraps booth — the one that looks a little like Island Paradise meets Gilligan's Island. Any adult who brings me a favorite recipe gets a chance to win dinner for two at your home catered by almost-famous moi. You'll also receive a seabuck to use in the festival's fabulous food court.

If you're any kind of seafood lover, I strongly urge you to make a day of it! There's lots to see and more to eat!

21st annual Ruskin Seafood Festival
Nov. 7-8
E. G. Simmons Park
2401 19th Ave. NW, Ruskin

For additional infromation, call the Ruskin chamber at (813) 645-3808 or visit http://www.ruskinseafoodfestival.org/.


What ever happened to peanut butter kisses?

I just ran across a fun Web site called Old Time Candy, candy you ate as a kid, which listed some of the candies I remember buying at Reed's Drug Store when my family lived in Golden Valley, Minnesota in the late 1960s. Mom and Dad wouldn't allow us to chew gum or buy candy, so we sometimes saved our lunch money to go buy it, and then sneak the contraband into the house.

Two of my all-time favorites were on the site's list of discontinued goodies: Bub's Daddy bubble gum ropes and Bonomo's Turkish Taffy. I especially loved the banana-flavored version.

Drawing by Sherry Thurner

The reason I went candy surfing on the Internet, though, was to find out what happened to a Halloween favorite of mine. You know, the taffy-like chewy things with peanut butter in the middle. They were wrapped in either black or orange wax paper. I wasn't able to find them anywhere this Halloween.

I wonder if they were part of the products that were recalled from a Georgia peanut factory last January?